Sunday, October 30, 2005

Blogging News

Konrad Glogowski writes passionately about what student blogging achieves:
“When I think of blogs, I think primarily of what this technology enables my students to accomplish. When I look forward to reading their entries and comments I am really looking forward to thoughts made visible. And so, when they write, I don’t want the journey to end with me as it inevitably does when the teacher is the audience. I want to be part of the collective journey.”

I too have seen a pleasing development in class blogging. My students are thinking about their writing voices and experiencing the pleasure that I get from blogging. Recently some of Clarence Fisher’s students have been interacting with students in one of my writing classes. It certainly adds to the pleasure and excitement of writing. Students are experiencing a sense of place, a sense that that their place is different to places where other students live. Tiffany says
“It’s the long weekend for everyone living here in Melbourne. I wonder what everyone is getting up to. I’m playing netball, working and doing a lot of homework.”
We are seeing a sense of writing for an audience wider than just their class-mates. Tiffany goes on:
“Melbourne is a pretty big city if you think about it…around 4 million people living in it. Comparing to a town in central Canada - Snow Lake who only have around 1600 people. I’d like to say hi to those students who have been replying to my blogs, thanks it’s wonderful to hear what you have to say.”

Breaking news: On Friday night James Farmer announced that he is offering a place teachers can get free blogs for their students.
And here is a fascinating post by Joan Vinall-Cox on the genre of blogs.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Edublogger map

Here is a way for all edubloggers to put themselves on the map. Thanks to Josie Fraser of EdTech UK who says:

I thought I'd set up an edublog map for everyone (well, everyone covered by Google maps at the moment anyway), not just us UK & Ireland based types. So please, if you're an edublogger of any shape, size or persuasion, please head over to

Please remember to put your blog name and url in the 'shoutout' section. And please do advertise the map - lets make a great resource for edubloggers and for everyone interested in using technology to support teaching and learning.

I agree.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Strategy of the week

Our strategy of the week idea continues. As I have posted earlier, each week the Learning and Teaching Coordinator posts a good idea for adding interest to classes that different teachers have emailed him. Today I tried one – a strategy to enhance vocabulary. This was contributed by my colleague Kevin. The students were asked to form pairs and use a dictionary. Each pair came up with an unusual word that they thought no-one else would know and one made up, or invented, word. In turn each pair came up to the board and wrote up their two words. The rest of the class then had a go at saying which they thought was the real word and why. Lots of time for discussion about words that might be related, the possible origin of words and words they’d seen before, even if they couldn’t define them without context. After this the pair revealed which one was the real word and what its meaning was, rubbing out the other word. After a while we had a group of student chosen unusual words, which had been discussed and the meanings given. I then asked them to pick one or two of the words from the board, write them in their books, together with the meaning, and commit to using them in writing and conversation over the next few days. The students loved it and wanted to keep doing it.

Another strategy that I will contribute to the Strategy of the Week is one I thought of today and called Roving Reporter. My Year Sevens were reporting on research they had done using PowerPoint presentations in groups. I wanted to add a reflective component to the activity so after they finished I popped up with a pretend microphone (I literally thought of the idea in the class) and said. “Hello, I’m Sandra Sully from Channel Ten News. I just wanted to ask you a few questions about your presentation. Where exactly did you get your information?” (Pause for answer) “Did you find one source more helpful than the others?” and “You have obviously spent a fair bit of time on research. What was the most interesting thing you found out?” And so on. There were a couple of different questions for each group. After a while the students caught on and one volunteered to be Livinia Nixon from Channel Nine. She asked her question (she realised the first one she asked wouldn’t work and she had to think of another one). After a while Livinia Nixon decided to take questions from the audience to those who had just presented. It turned out to be a fun and engaging activity, and achieved its aim of providing some reflective time for the students. Even though they were put on the spot (in a fun way) their answers and musings were surprisingly good.

Monday, October 24, 2005

More on family stories

The students are beginning to think about writing their family stories. In preparation for this I read my students a short story by S. K. Martin about family stories – Three Daughter Stories published in The Age in 1996 where the author wrote about her grandmother. One of the three stories was very simple. My grandmother, she writes, was born in a tent. From this detail she weaves a scenario from imagination to posit how and why this may have happened. Martin knows that it occurred on the goldfields at Avoca but not what the family was doing there – whether mining gold or running a shop or some other occupation. So the details necessarily come from imagination.
It made me think about the two versions of the ‘missing brothers’ story in my husband’s family. As my sister-in-law overheard it in snippets as a child, the story was that three brothers had emigrated to Australia in the 1850’s from Scotland. Shortly after their arrival two of the brothers went missing and were never heard of again. But just after we were married we heard from Vernon in Tasmania who was compiling a family history and who had worked out that we were related to him. He knew what happened to the two missing brothers. They were part of a much larger family who migrated to Tasmania in 1853, and had never arrived in Australia, choosing instead to go to America. He had copies of letters written by the brothers from Chicago in the late 1850’s (complaining, in part, about the quality of the whiskey). They were still missing, as nothing is known about them after 1858 but it added greatly to our knowledge to think of them making their way in America. Similarly, in my own family (my parents migrated to Australia from Holland in 1955) there is a story where the details were missing. When I was growing up I took it for granted that when my mother cooked pancakes, she stacked them up and then served them to the family after having cut them in quarters. Nothing that could be the basis of a story here. But when I went to Holland and met my aunts and uncles for the first time this fact came up in conversation. They laughed and explained that my grandmother had a very large frying pan and cut up the pancakes for practical reasons. This reminds me of the story of the monastery cat (which had to be tied up during meditation) that I read at Computer Drone, where the original reason for a tradition or ritual is lost in the mists of time.

What’s all this got to do with teaching writing? The students are researching their family stories. In some cases, to follow up their family story they may need to write letters to relatives they don’t see often or who live in other countries. They may need to write advertisements to find out things, as Vernon did to find the Victorian branch of his family. They may need to write to Government departments to get Army records of a family member – oh, if we only had time to do this properly! The writing skills they gain in the process of doing the research will be transferable to other aspects of their education and to the future working lives (one would hope, anyway). But the stories they will find about their families and the original writing they do will be invaluable.

And here is another great idea for writing from Blended Edu: Social Media Resources for Learning using Flickr “we decided to use digital pictures for paragraph writing. Pictures easily lend themselves to descriptive and process writing. Students will be given an assignment first, then they will think about what they will photograph and then write about it. These types of assignments actively engage learners and put the students in charge of their own learning.”

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Classroom Blogging

“What is it about the Australian educational system that keeps blogging from taking off as it has in the US? I'd be very interested in knowing how pedagogy and theory and real world computer access are similar to and different from the US.” Just recently this question has been in my mind (although the comment I am quoting is from a post published in March this year). While the Directory of Australian Edubloggers is growing as more people find out about it, there are not so many teachers using blogs with their students that I have been able to find. In my search, though, I did find Our Class 2005 which is “a blog for an English class of adult migrants in Sydney, Australia.”
Certainly, community building is being promoted among edubloggers by James Farmer at the community and Leigh Blackall with the Teach and Learn Online TALO Group (and there are no doubt other that I’m yet to discover). I would love to get more Aussie teachers using blogs just so I have more people to learn from and with, and because I think it is an interesting thing to do. It is true that we are on a journey and there are things we need to figure out, but we can figure them out together. Dave Cormier has posted on some of the issues over the last few days here and here. Something that I like a lot is being able to share with my students other student blogs such as those in Clarence Fisher’s class of bloggers and A School of Voices by Anne Davis just so they hear voices on blogging other than mine.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Memory and imagination

My two writing classes have moved onto their next piece. In this one we are aiming to access the students' memories and imagination. It is a family stories piece, and to start with they will come to school today with a story that begins with “I remember when…”, following this with a reflection on a family photo they have brought to class. Eventually I think they will be able to write something about, not what’s happened in their own generation or their parents', but something that may have happened in their grandparents’ generation. We will consider whether the tense of this piece of writing alters what they can say. I’m thinking that by writing in the present tense they will be accessing their imaginations. I have left this piece to last as I think that the writing the students will be able to produce in this way will be very interesting and that they will be proud of what they write. The students are reflecting as they go in their blogs (ERE A and ERE C), and as usual there is a variety of reactions.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Poetry and podcasting

I am listening to a Paul Allison podcast. He is talking about how to get more people connected to technology and trying to integrate technology into the regular classroom curriculum. During the conversation he is having, he refers to Ed Tech Posse podcast 7 where they suggest connecting with teachers around something personal, asking what is personally interesting or fascinating to them. When I think about what is fascinating to me personally, what is exciting to me at the moment? I know what the answer is: the students’ blogging project interests me.

During class as the students were writing, one asked me if I had a blog. I was surprised as I had thought that it had been mentioned, but I think it was rather that now that students have ‘got’ the idea of blogging, they are interested in it in a different way. At the beginning, it was just words, the teacher talking, but now having experienced the idea of conversation and self expression through the medium of blogs, they were ready to hear more about it. It hasn’t taken long and I see that the students are learning while having fun. It reminds me about what Anne Davis of Edublog Insights says: “Writing/blogging really does benefit learning. We need to encourage, cheer our students on and work at releasing them from trying to write for us or for a grade.” She references Konrad from the Blog of Proximal Development: “It is fascinating to watch how students gradually abandon writing for their teacher and begin to develop readership among their peers,” and “by creating a community of bloggers, the teacher can ensure that writing is perceived as a process of sharing personal views and ideas.” Hear, hear.

But when I thought further about what fascinates me I drew a blank. I feel a bit overwhelmed by all the marking I have to do (it seems never ending) and the feeling that I am never doing enough for my study. Although I did have another thought. At the moment my Literature students (a year 9/10 combined elective unit) are studying poetry. I have asked them to choose a poem that appeals to them and to write a reflection which tries to express just what it is about the poem that speaks directly to them. Then, during class two or three students each class will read their poem aloud and speak about their poem. I have thought that we could record these and any discussion that ensues and think about making a podcast. The idea of a poetry podcast is not new: here is a beautiful one from Sandaig Poets - Poems from Sandaig Primary School.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Webcasting and blogging

This week as part of the Worldbridges live webcast we shared a conference call between Jeff Lebow in the US, Dave Cormier in Canada, Scott Lockman in Japan and me in Australia. It certainly was an interesting, if somewhat nervewracking, experience for me. We talked about many things, including our class blogs, the Learning Times Australia group and the Directory of Australian Edubloggers. Some of the people I have met in the chatroom include Dennis, elderbob and Sue Roseman. The audio is available here and the chatroom transcript is here.

Part of the the conversation was about using blogs in the classroom and the practicalities of setting them up. Just this week the two writing classes have begun blogging again for fourth term. I was surprised and pleased to learn that quite a few had been blogging on their own (having set their personal blogs up during the holidays) and reading blogs. They seemed to get back into class blogging with some enthusiasm and it seems the quality of their writing has improved. The links to the class blogs are here and here and the students are linked to the class blogs, if you want to check them out. Please leave encouraging comments if you wish.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Fun with Interactive Whiteboards

From Danny Maas at Tilt TV (Teachers improving Learning with Technology) in his lastest vieocast come resources that can be immediately adapted for the Interactive Whiteboard. He points to this site of games templates. These games were created in PowerPoint and you can download the templates and modify the games to fit your curriculum needs. He credits Mark E. Damon for these Millionaire and Jeopardy templates.

At our school we now have another IWB installed permanently in a classroom, which can be booked. It is available and ready to go at any time, just by saving any activity or game you have made to the shared folder. I know I’ll be adapting these templates for games and activities in my middle school units. The last game I made for the Merchant of Venice was very well received and what I saw was students going back to the text, talking about the characters and what the caharaters said and did. It was really intense engagement (not to mention competition) with this famous Shakespearean play and the students were having fun as well. I love the whiteboard.

With regard to classroom blogging Scott Lockman in his Comprehensible Input blog shares this great link. Thanks Scott.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Writing and Assessment

This term in the writing classes we have started our next project, which is called Personal Best. This is based on the old Year Eleven Communication Project of a by-gone VCE English Study Design, but limited to writing. The students were invited to think of a topic that they had always wanted to find out about (or find out more about). They had to submit a plan (which will be assessed) stating their topic for research, the questions they need to find out and how they will go about finding out what they need to know in order to write for an audience interested in the same topic. The writing could be informative or persuasive. I’m hoping that we will get a wide variety of topics and I think that we will, judging from what I’ve seen so far. Some students are researching the country or city they were born in but had left five or ten years ago. They can find out their information by the usual ways but they are also being encouraged to interview relatives either personally or by email or any other way. I hope to find out more about Afghanistan in this way. Other aspects that will be assessed are the research itself, as well as the writing. They are expected to keep a running list of all the ways they tried to find information and state how helpful or otherwise it was for their writing. Needless to say the students are very happy to be researching a topic of their own choice as well. So far there have been a few teachable moments when we’re talking about a suitable topic or question to research. It’s never too soon to learn about this aspect of research, I think :D.

Another interesting class has been the Year Eleven English class. They have been preparing to do their second writing folio piece which is personal or imaginative writing. As practice exercises we had fun with doing personal alphabets thanks to this site, and an exercise where I gave the students a small squares of paper each. They wrote a setting in the middle of their square (anywhere a narrative could take place.) Then the squares are taken up and randomly distributed. This time they write imagery and metaphors that match or are related in some way to the setting they received. Again they are taken up and redistributed. Then they write other words related to the setting. Finally after another redistribution, they write a story using the stimulus of the square. I took up the resulting stories and was pleasantly surprised.

And speaking of assessment this looks interesting:

Are you interested in knowing how teachers translate the theory behind strategic questioning into their classroom practice? A Strategic Questioning DVD is in production that has actual examples of strategic questioning used in Australian primary and secondary classrooms. It also includes teachers reflecting on their practice and providing useful tips and insights. Limited copies of the Strategic Questioning DVD with be available free of charge to Australian educators. Register now to be one of the first to receive the Strategic Questioning DVD on its release in February 2006.

Have a look at the site.
Posted in Australian education

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Australian Edubloggers

Just recently I have been enjoying listening to the Worldbridges webcasts. The name is very accurate as the guys there do bridge the world in numerous ways. They are in North America (both the US and Canada) and have people skyping in from all over. Last Sunday it was Josie Fraser from EdtechUK and another week it was Suse from Denmark. Skype really is amazing. I have just downloaded it and I am impressed with the clarity of the sound and it's very good value. Free! Free telephone calls regardless of where you call or how long you call. This conversation between people who have similar interests is really making bridges across the world.
On another matter I am wondering if it would be good to have a directory of Australian Edubloggers. Some time ago Leigh Blackall expressed a wish to have people comment on his blog if they are an Australian blogger to get a sense of who they are. He really gets us thinking about what we could do to increase the uptake of this reflective practice. Now there is a wiki which is a Directory that lists all Australian edubloggers who want to be listed. In this way we can support each other and learn from each other. I hope that this can be the start of an edublogging community that will have benefits to all on the list.
This Directory uses pbwiki - short for Peanut Butter wiki. This has recently been re-launched. It really is very fast, simple and easy. It’s free and the interface has been improved. As Derek Baird says it’s even easier than making a peanut butter sandwich. Have a look and see how you can use it.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Listening and Learning

Over the last two weeks I have been doing a lot of learning by reading blogs and listening to podcasts, by finding resources in my areas of interest, including the latest area of the use of interactive whiteboards and putting them in my, even watching recordings of elluminate sessions which were part of an online conference on Cool Tools. I have even done most of my marking and planned the lessons I will be teaching in the next little while. I have also been reading for my Masters, including John Dewey’s Experience and Education and Douglas Barnes From Communication to Curriculum; oldies but goodies, especially in the light of the debates on education which are going on at the moment.
Some links I have enjoyed lately:
Fred's World for Blogaholics Anonymous
Sandra Effinger for Resources for secondary English Teachers
Dick Hardt’s presentation on Identity 2.0 is entertaining and informative, and his style is inspiring. Thanks to Martha Burtis for this.
Now I know I will get overwhelmed again when school goes back tomorrow but for now I feel rich and inspired and full of good will.